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In Segregated Louisville, Red Cross Hospital Served African-American Residents

Caufield & Shook via University of Louisville Photographic Archives

Louisville's Red Cross Hospital was founded by African-Americans, for African-Americans during a time when segregation was the norm.

Drs. W.T. Merchant, Ellis Whedbee and R.B. Scott established the hospital in 1899 to provide care to Louisville's African-American community. The hospital was first located at Sixth and Muhammad Ali Boulevard (then Walnut Street) and eventually moved to South Shelby Street.

It closed its doors 40 years ago.

Now, a local doctor wants to tell the story of the hospital and the people connected to it.

"It was a beacon in the African-American community, not just here in Louisville but throughout the entire state of Kentucky," said Dr. Wayne Tuckson, a colorectal surgeon. "Because you have to remember, African-Americans were not being admitted to white hospitals, so they only could come to Red Cross Hospital."

Tuckson, along with writer Marty Rosen, are in the early stages of developing a project about the Red Cross Hospital that will explore what made the hospital and its staff special, and the kind of care the team at the hospital provided to African-Americans in Kentucky.

The hospital closed its doors in 1976, after experiencing financial decline and with integration allowing African-Americans to finally use services they were once banned. At that point, it was called Community Hospital.

Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton is one Louisvillian with personal connections to the hospital: She was born there in 1950, and her father was a physician at the hospital for almost 30 years.

She said after her father completed his education at Meharry Medical College in 1945, there weren't too many places he could practice medicine because of his race.

"He came back and he couldn't go to Jewish Hospital. He couldn't go to Baptist. He couldn't practice. Luckily, we had our own institutions where our patients and our families could receive first-rate care, and that's something that is missing today," Hamilton said.

Tuckson said research shows discrepancies in distribution and delivery of health care within African-American and other minority populations. He said during studies, when race is stripped away, health disparities disappear.

"I think it's important that cultural and racial sensitivities has to be there. I'm not saying someone white can't do that, nor am I saying that all black patients need to only be treated by black physicians, by no means. But we have to be sensitive to these matters," he said.

Disparities in health care for African-Americans in Louisville was the focus of Sick & Tired, a WFPL News project last fall.

Tuckson and Hamilton said the Red Cross Hospital brings up feelings of pride in the institution and the people who worked behind its doors.

"I refuse to allow the accomplishments of African-American physicians in Louisville, who started the Red Cross Hospital to meet the needs of African-Americans, and anyone else for that matter, to go by the wayside as just a mere bump in the road of history," he said.

Tuckson is currently in the process of collecting stories from former employees and patients at the Red Cross Hospital. If you'd like to share a memory about Red Cross Hospital, contact him at wtuckson@me.com.

Tuckson will host a presentation about the project Feb. 27 at the Old Walnut Street Development Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.